The room is getting darker. Out of the window I can see wooded hills on the eastern horizon, catching the last orange tinge of daylight, as the sun sets behind us. On the table by the bed there is a candle and a tinderbox. I strike a spark with some difficulty, as if the air is damp, and nurture a little fire to light the candle. The illumination it gives is meagre and yellow, serving only to heighten the shadows in the room, rather than dispel them. I rise and cross to the window.
Taking a last look at the vestige of sunlight fading from the tips of the distant trees, I close the curtain and return to the bed, to sit and wait. There is now no running away. It is night, and I must stay here. I am dressed as if for bed, in a simple shift. My day-clothes lie folded on a chair.
When I was a younger woman I worshipped my father. He was Professor Jakob Lund of Helsingfors, and although as a girl I could not study under him at the University, I was his helper, his assistant, his student in all but name, and the person he chose to carry on his work after his death. He was a Swedish Finn, which meant that we were subjects of the Tsar. And as non-Russians and intellectuals to boot we were doubly suspect. We found it difficult to move around freely, and the Russian police and those malodorous, bearded priests made life difficult. They mistrusted and feared my father’s arcane research, resented the fact that when he had converted from Lutheranism it had been to Catholicism, rather than to their religion. When we had managed to leave the Empire we found things only a little easier. Nobody likes to be reminded of the dark things of the world, everybody wants to pretend that they don’t exist, and when these things emerge the evil acts they do are put down to something else. There are no werewolves, just rabid dogs. There are no dreadful spectres, just tricks of the light. There are no ghouls, just grave-robbers. There are no…
Since my father’s death I have had to grow several layers of tough skin. I am a woman. I travel alone when I can, engaging an ad hoc chaperone when I have to. I meddle in things which the world considers unseemly for a woman, I ask questions, I probe, I make demands. “Can’t she find a man?” they say with curled-lipped derision.
This morning I had left my current chaperone in the town, some fifty kilometres away from here. It had been difficult to hire a horse, but eventually I found someone who let me have a tired hack at an exorbitant rate, and I had ridden alone until I found this abandoned, ruined Staedtel, unsure in which empire or province it stood, in a land of debateable borders. Every roof was falling in, every door hanging by a single hinge, except for this house, the largest. As I approached, it seemed to have an air of the same age and dereliction as the other buildings, but close-to its soundness betrayed some sort of occupation or use. The roof held, the door stood erect. I dismounted, and slapped the horse on its rump to make it run away. I wanted to leave myself no avenue of escape. If I survived the coming night that would be enough. If I did not, then it was certain that I would have no need of a horse.
Looking at the house, I saw that a simple carving had been made in the stone lintel. A heart. The last element of a coat of arms of a once-great family, this device was one amongst many dispersed on the lintels of houses throughout central Europe. It looked innocuous, but it made me shudder when I considered its implications. But still I pushed at the door of the house half hoping to find it locked. It was not. I entered and shut it behind me. Today I have burned so many bridges behind myself.
Time passes – how late in the night is it now? The candle wavers and is dim, still burning feebly though the air is not damp at all – it is dry. I look towards a far corner of the room, and it seems to me that the angles where the walls and floor meet are all wrong, growing sharper, more acute, distant. It is as though all the dust in the room is gathering itself into an absurd plane against that corner. Something is happening. Something is coming. I rise, for I must meet my adversary standing.
The dust is moving, swirling into shapes only to dissolve again, one moment seeming to grow a trunk and limbs, the next forming unnatural cubes and cylinders, and then falling into a writhing heap. Now it gathers itself with purpose, and I watch as it forms at last into a figure, the whirling dust transforming itself into a flowing, white robe, undulating over a female body. There she is, suspended in the crackling, electric air, her feet about half a metre from the floor, her arms held out from her sides, her hair rippling like midnight grasses in the wind. She is iridescent, shimmering, unearthly, terrifying. And beautiful, oh yes she is so beautiful.
I must stand still for now. I must conquer my own fear inside me. That is the first battle I must win, for if I lose it, then I will lose the battle that is to come after, the battle with her. I raise my head, and look at her steadily, with all the calm defiance I can muster.
On the humming air she floats. Then, wasplike, she flits to my left, then behind me. I feel a frisson as she seems to hover only a bare centimetre from the back of my neck. I am vulnerable, but I make no movement. Now she is back in front of me, hovering still, just out of arm’s reach. She closes her eyes, and gives an almost ecstatic hiss through her teeth. Then she opens her eyes and looks at me. She speaks, and her voice reverberates weirdly.
“I am Mala.”
“I know who you are,” I say. “The name of Mala is familiar to me. It is an infamous name, evil.”
“And I know who you are,” she replies. “The reputation of Anna Lund precedes her wherever she goes. You, and those like you, have destroyed many of my kin and kind. The dwindling number that remained grew lonelier and lonelier. We have cause to hate you. Have you come here tonight to destroy me? Have you brought your crucifixes, you holy water, your wooden stake? Do you have accomplices lurking a call away to help you in your extermination, your murder?”
“Do you see and stakes or crucifixes? Can you sense anyone else within a dozen kilometres of here? I am alone. I have brought only what you see before you – myself. Come down.”
She is silent. Her eyes hold mine. This is a moment of danger, for I must hold her gaze without coming under its spell. My father taught me this discipline as soon as he felt I could both understand and endure it. Now I stand, defying her.
Suddenly, it is as if something mechanical has been switched off. The electricity in the air, the humming and crackling, all cease. She is no longer hovering and iridescent, but is standing before me, lit only by the candle in the room. She is just as she was all those centuries ago when she was sired – a beautiful maiden of seventeen, dark-eyed, dark-haired, porcelain-skinned. I am almost surprised to find that she is a centimetre or two shorter than I am. We stand and look at each other. I find that immediate terror has gone, but I know that this is yet another danger, as it lurks under the surface. When her kind are at their most seemingly human, they are at their most deceptive.
“What do you want?” she asks.
Involuntarily, I sigh. “I want to tell you something. And I want to give you something.”
“What could you tell me that I do not already know? What can you give me that I do not already have?”
“Mala,” I say. “I want to tell you how much I know about you, how much I understand you. I want you to know how much I have pitied your kin and kind as I have destroyed them.” To my surprise, she does not laugh, but stands there, saying nothing. I continue.
“I know you have all your memories of you former humanity. You can recall in detail your mother, your childhood joys, your growing into a young woman. You remember each tear, each laugh, each morsel of food, each breath, with a sharpness that the human mind cannot sanely grasp. I know that you and your kin and kind share with us all our emotions…”
“Anger, jealousy, hatred,” she said. “Yes, they are all there, along with exhilaration, delight, joy. Even disgust. We have everything that you have, but more so. You cannot begin to imagine how heightened these emotions and feelings are, how much sharper, how much more precious, how much more they are to be savoured. We are to all intents and purposes super-human! Our intellects too are sharper – we reason, we are probably the most reasoning beings that exist.”
“Love too,” I say, and I catch a momentary flicker in her eyes. “You have love as we do, only to greater heights. There is only one thing that you do not have, and it is in this respect that our difference is to be found.”
“Conscience!” she says. “I can remember that I had it, and that I exercised it, and I can remember the effect it had on me. I understand intellectually what its function is. But you’re right, I do not have thing, and have no actual conception now of what it is. I only know that I am liberated from it. I am free!”
“It is a simple difference, but a great one,” I say. “You cannot be trusted to act as a human acts. Though you share so much with us, your actions cannot be explained as human actions. You have your own motives and reasons for doing everything, and they are alien to us. This makes you dangerous, unpredictable except in as much as you prey upon us. That much can be predicted.”
She is silent for a while, and then she frowns. “If that is what you wanted to tell me, there is nothing surprising there. How much you know us? – hah! Is your gift as banal? What do you have to give me?”
“Love. Peace. Warmth,” I say, and I stretch out my hand to touch her cheek. She makes to flinch away, animal-like, slightly baring her white teeth. But then she checks, and allows my palm to touch her cheek. For an instant it feels as cold as a marble gravestone, but then it warms beneath my touch. Will she treat this with the contempt she gave to my “knowledge”? Another moment of danger, and I try not to betray myself by bracing for an attack, staying as relaxed and as gentle as I can. Now she raises her own hand, and lays it on my cheek. Again marble, instantaneously changing to warm flesh. We stand like that for a minute or more.
With my free hand, I tug at the laces of my shift, and let it fall to the floor. I am now naked before her. No woman has ever stood before her of her own free will so defenceless. She looks down at me. I am thirty years old, hardened and muscled through training and travel, but I am nevertheless still a woman, still smooth, still rounded. Has any woman – has any person – ever stood before her like this without compulsion? I am banking on the answer being no.
I take my hand from her cheek and, summoning all the courage I can, reach out for the fastenings of her robe. I hope that surprise is one of her heightened emotions, and indeed she watches as I pull at the fastenings, looking down at herself as I take the robe off entirely. Now we are both naked. Although she was born centuries before me, she looks no more than what she was at the moment she was sired – a girl of seventeen, on the brink of womanhood. Upward-tilted, rosebud-tipped breasts. Belly as flat as a book, with a small paddock of soft, curling growth nestling where that belly meets her legs. If she had been beautiful clothed, she is doubly so now, and I gasp in surprise.
Mala looks at me, and her jaw falls a little. Whatever is happening is not entirely in her control – that is new, and she is savouring the feeling.
“Do you realise what you are doing? Do you realise what will happen to you?” she asks.
“Yes and yes!” I reply, stepping close to her. She looks up into my eyes, as I put one arm round her waist and draw her to me.
“This is my gift to you, Mala.”
I bend my head towards her, and touch my lips to hers. Again there is that briefest moment of cold, and a hint of both a taste and scent of dust or earth, before her lips become warm, and there is the honey-sweet taste of young woman. Her eyes close, and at the touch of my breath upon her cheek, she feigns breathing too – that too, like each new touch and caress, is for a moment cold, then draws warmth from somewhere. My breasts are larger, lower than hers, and our nipples come exactly together as we embrace and kiss. I pass my hand down from her waist to her buttocks, and pull her lower body closer toward me. Our womanly curls mingle. Now she is all warmth, and no hint of her grave-coldness remains. I realise that she is drawing this from me.
I force her lips apart, and insert my tongue in her mouth, and I am aware of it sliding between those terrifying teeth, which I know can drain the soul from a human body if she becomes overwhelmed by a feeding frenzy. But I do not shudder. It is not my role to give her fear tonight. Now we are tongue-tip to tongue-tip, and hers flickers urgently against mine. Her arms are around me, one hand is behind my head, the other seems to trace sigils on my back. She pushes her belly as close to mine as she can, and she is feeding – but not on my blood!
I can feel total arousal coming over me. I am warm and wet –growing wetter – between my legs, and there is a similar warm spring welling up in Mala, in response to mine. She raises one leg slightly and rubs its inner surface against my thigh, and I can feel the stickiness that drying dampness makes between two surfaces of skin. There is a scent to this mutual arousal. The air that was dry now seems to be humid with it, and the yellow candle glows more intensely, more steadily. She tenses slightly, like a cat at a sudden movement, as I catch her off balance and bring us both to sit on the bed. I cover her face and lips with kisses, and with an uncanny hunger she follows my lips with hers, trying to intercept them as they rain down their affection upon her eyebrows, her cheeks, her chin, and then – yes! – back to her mouth. Her breath, although an imitation of mine, seems more than a mockery, because it is rasping with passion. She moans and whimpers a wordless complaint as I tear my mouth from her, but then gasps as it fastens on one of her nipples. So sweet, so sweet! Let me flick it with my tongue, let me tease the other one with my thumb – Oh, Mala!
“Anna! Anna!” she says, in answer to my thought, and I feel her two hands sliding round to my breasts, kneading them, testing my nipples with her palms, her fingertips, the spaces between her fingers, even the back of her hands. She is experiencing the sense of touch as fully as she can, and seeing what response she can draw from me. And I do respond, letting out little gasps as hot breaths upon the nipple which I am sucking…
Let me thrust my hand between your legs – I know what I will find, Mala. And I do that. My right hand pushes its way between her thighs, forcing her legs apart. Gently as I can, I stroke upwards on what I do find there. Loving moisture means that there is no friction, each drying wavelet being replaced by another. I stroke her over and over and over. She puts her head back and gives a little cry. Now she is thrusting herself towards my hand, whimpering at the pressure. I tease her with one finger, pushing a tip between those sweet, warm lips and then withdrawing it, finding now an opening, now nothing, now her clitoris [Ah! A whimper that is almost a yelp of surprise]. Now. Let me try you, Mala. Gently, firmly, deliberately I push my longest finger into her. Soon I meet resistance, and confirmation of what I had always suspected – that when she was sired, lo these many centuries, she had been a virgin. Her hymen seems to shatter, to burst like a soap bubble at my pressure, and she gives another, louder cry, shuddering with the sharp pain, as if enjoying it. But there is no blood, of course there is no blood. “She is not human,” says my mind to itself, and it answers, “I don’t care!” I press on. I give and give. She gives and gives.
I feel one of her hands urgently seeking my sex, and I move a little on the bed to let her find it. Taking knowledge from what I have given to her, she begins to explore me, and finds in me all I have found in her, to our pleasure. Unlike her, I am not intact, though I have known no man in my life. A finger pushes into me with hesitation, and finding no resistance, it pushes to its maximum length. God help me – I relish this! I raise my head from her breasts, and come up to nuzzle her ear.
“Two, Mala. I can take two,” I breath, and she responds, obeys, presses me deeply. Oh! We continue – kissing, nuzzling, pressing against each other, pressing into each other. Time seems to stand still. Dust motes hang in the air, and the candle flame seems solid, unmoving…
Well, if time cannot move on, then I will. Time will not hold me by its glamour while I have this to do, this to give. I push Mala backwards, forcing her to lie down. She does not resist, though in her wonderful, inhuman eyes, I see a hint of fear mingled with enjoyment. She settles upon her back savouring, it seems, this situation of receiving the insistent ardour of a lover. With a hand on each thigh, I push her legs apart – how wide will they go, Mala? Oh, as tender as a virgin you may be, but your deceitfully youthful suppleness gives you the means to spread out before me like a whore. Oh sweetness and wantonness, oh innocence and great evil. I come close to faltering, but no, I press on and give more and more, burying my face down there in her counterfeit femininity, where her scent and taste seems all summer meadow and dew. But she is tender, glistening, agonisingly vulnerable, her secret self on display like a flesh-wound. She is blushing deeper than pink, as she pushes towards my mouth, and I meet her with my tongue. Oh angels and ministers of Grace help me – I had not known that she would be so sweet, so terrifyingly adorable. Am I lost? Am I lost? I throw care to the wind, running my tongue up and down those sweet lips, worshipping without restraint. Now I thrust my tongue inside her, straining it to its very roots, making the blood sing in my ears, and wondering whether she can sense my total abandon. I am playing with my life, staking my soul on this, but now I do not care if I lose it. Oh, Mala!
I feel the grip of two hands on my buttocks. Mala is heaving me on top of her, to drink at the same fountain as the one at which I am slaking my thirst now. Her tongue finds me, but as I drive mine towards her most tender jewel, hers falters and her whole body jerks. I ease my probing slightly, and lap gently at her, feeling her relax and pay me the same attention. The lovely sensation reaches a plateau, and now we are at peace for a while. Time catches up with us, the candle flickers, dust motes fall.
After a while of this tenderness, I pull away from her [she makes a mew of complaint] and turn round to lie facing her, on top of her, between her legs. We kiss, and our intimate tastes mingle – I can detect mine on her lips and tongue. I take my weight on my arms, and press my sex against hers, moving, moving, reawakening her arousal. Now I have my hands flat on the bed, and all my weight is pushing against her down there. Her eyes are tightly shut, her hands are clawing at the bed, her mouth is set in a rictus – her whole body is one step from showing agony, and that tiny distance makes her even more beautiful. As I press and press, move and move, her excitement builds. Her lips curl back, her white, terrible teeth are becoming bared. I can sense that the undead beast is rising up in her, and I realise that I have never been in such danger since I started this. I slow down, I stop. I place a finger on her lips, and she relaxes.
“Not now, Mala my love,” I say. “Not yet.”
Slowly I being to move again. Our lower bodies are slick with our mutual moisture. She is relaxed and gentle, and she raises her hands to play with my breasts. We stay like this for some time, fitting our movements to each other’s until they become perfectly attuned. We are almost like a machine – no, not that, but rather a single being. She is I. I am she. We are united in love. And I know now that I do indeed love her. Oh will someone give help to my soul, I truly love her. I am giving myself to her in a way I could never have imagined possible, and now I do not know what the outcome will be. I only know I love her, whatever she is!
It must be time – yes it is time – to give her everything. I move slightly away from her, pivoting on her belly, taking my weight on one knee, and raising her left leg. She lifts her head, unsure what is going on now, curious. I smile at her, and she smiles back – a maiden’s smile. I push our lower bodies together. Our legs are scissored, hers on either side of me, mine of either side of hers making, if she did but realise it, an ironic cruciform, mocking a shape which is deadly to her and her kin and kind. But this present shape is all for love, not death or mockery. I stretch my hands out to her, and she takes them. Our fingers entwine, and we take up a strain between us. Only our sexes are now in play, pushing together in love. We rub against each other, we grind into each other, we ride each other, faster, faster.
Each one of us now throws her head back and cries with each breath – real and counterfeit.
“Anna! Anna! Oh my love! Yes!”
Will this crescendo never end? How high can the notes of love play on an instrument made of two women’s bodies? How intense is white light? Surely a climax must come? But no, the pleasure just grows in intensity, and we are climbing higher and higher up a pinnacle, so that we can throw ourselves destructively off the top with total abandon. But where is that top? Mala, I am yours!
The moment comes with a howl. The bestial noise comes from me, not from her. I have no more to give, and the climax is ripped from me. If Mala has screamed also, I have not heard it. She is slumped upon the bed, panting, glowing, shivering in the aftermath of ecstasy, bathed in a wetness that could be the over-poured juices of our love or my perspiration, or both. I untangle our limbs and lie down by her side, resting on one elbow. I kiss her, and brush her dark hair away from her perfect face.
“I love you,” I say, and my mind strays to the carven heart. The thought comes into my mind, “Amor vincit Omnia – Love defeats everything”. I have given her love and warmth, and will give her peace.
How long have we lain here like this, she as if sleeping, I caressing her hair, as if in worship? I do not really know. I rise from the bed, and stretch my limbs, which are aching from our lovemaking. The candle has burned down almost to nothing, and threatens to sputter. I look down at Mala, and I know that she is beautiful beyond compare, and that I love her utterly. She opens her eyes, and looks at me.
“Anna,” she says, and I adore the sound of my name on her lips. “Stay with me for ever. Never leave me. Be my love for all eternity.”
“Mala, my dearest love,” I answer. “For as long as you exist, I will never leave you.”
Tears spring into my eyes, and run down my cheeks, as I turn and draw back the curtain, letting in the first rays of sunrise, to fall upon the only woman I have ever loved, or will ever love. Goodbye, Mala.